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Laxmi Yadav, Mumbai August 10 , 2020
Taking serious note of the financial losses faced by drug exporters due to a significant rise in air freight rate for African region as well as lack of air cargo carriers in several African countries amid COVID-19 pandemic, the Union civil aviation ministry is set to operate special cargo flights on India-Africa routes under Vande Bharat Mission to ship pharmaceutical consignments to Africa.

The ministry has directed the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil) to collect export loads of member companies to the African market. Accordingly, Pharmexcil has asked member companies to provide inputs on proposed loads/shipments to Africa.

Africa is an important destination for Indian pharmaceutical exports both in terms of value (US$ 3513.64 million) and volume wise second largest growing at 3% year on year. MSMEs are major exporters to African countries. In 2019 India exported pharmaceuticals worth US$ 129.68 million to Ethiopia followed by US$ 95.45 million to Ghana, US$ 69.27 million to Zambia, US$ 44.48 million to Cote d’Ivoire, US$ 35.46 million to Botswana, US$ 29.48 million to Namibia, US$ 16.29 million to Senegal.

The drug industry is facing difficulty in shipping the materials to Africa due to the limited presence and availability of cargo and shipping lines since the coronavirus outbreak. Efforts are to be made to ensure sufficient carriers and timely deliveries, said Dr Dinesh Dua, chairman of Pharmexcil.

Currently, Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines are operating air cargo flights on India-Africa routes. Ethiopian Airlines is more economical than Emirates. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been 3-4 times increase in air freight rates of both the airlines, taking its toll on India’s export to Africa, he pointed out.

Pharmexcil represented the issue to the civil aviation ministry and sought support and cooperation from the ministry.

Acting on the Pharmexcil’s appeal, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri has consented to operate special cargo flights under Vande Bharat Mission to ship pharmaceutical goods to Africa. The ministry is looking to export loads of companies to African region, said Dr Dua.

Said Nipun Jain, chairman, Small and Medium Pharma Manufacturers Association, “There is almost double the air freight rate for Africa leading to an increase in the price of consignments. African importers have put orders on hold, instead paying enhanced prices of consignments. This has severely affected business.”

Considering the uncertainty revolving around the orders putting on hold by importers which would reduce shelf life of pharmaceutical products, a number of exporters are forced to ship consignments to Africa through Emirates or Ethiopian airlines by bearing increased freight rates, he added.

Pharmaceutical consignments require minimum remaining shelf life of 80%.

It would take 60-90 days for consignments reaching Africa through sea routes. Countries like Sudan and Ethiopia are landlocked regions where consignments can be shipped through air cargo carriers, said Jain.

Exporters are looking for the helping hand of the government in this regard, he added.

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